Weill & Schoenberg: From Berlin to Hollywood
Wednesday, July 5, 2017 @ 7:30 PM
Scott Concert Hall at the Porter Center
WEILL Berlin im licht
WEILL Two Movements for String Quartet
WEILL "J'Attends un navire" / "My Ship"
WEILL Two Walt Whitman Songs
WEILL Five Songs from Huckleberry Finn
SCHOENBERG Six Little Piano Pieces
SCHOENBERG Ode to Napoleon
More Information (Show)
Kurt Weill (1900-1950)
When he was just 19 years old and working as a conductor in a provincial theater in Germany, Kurt Weill decided that he would devote his talents to the musical theater, in its many forms. For the next thirty years, he did just that, in three languages, on both sides of the Atlantic. Along the way he managed also to compose two symphonies, two string quartets, a violin concerto, and a cello sonata (see chamber music concert on July 10).He wasn’t much of a songwriter outside the theater either: a couple of cycles on German texts, a few French cabaret songs, and four Whitman songs in America. The first half of today’s concert surveys this output geographically. It begins with the theme song of “festival of light” in Berlin in 1928, shortly after The Threepenny Opera had taken the city by storm. The “Two Movements for String Quartet” date from the first version of what became the op. 8 Quartet, which replaced the “Allegro deciso” and “Andantino” with a single “Introduktion.” Many Weill-experts consider the original movements superior to the later version, published in 1924.
The combination of “I Wait for a Ship” (from Marie Galante, 1934) and “My Ship” (from Lady in the Dark,1941) evinces Weill’s flight from Germany to Paris in 1933 and then his arrival in America in 1935. Lady was Weill’s first Broadway hit, and shortly after it opened in January 1941 he wrote to its lyricist, Ira Gershwin that he was thinking of composing “a book of songs (not popular songs but `Lieder’) for concert singers.” Shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December, Weill turned to his edition of Leaves of Grass and jotted the titles of five poems on a scrap of paper. On Christmas Day he gave his neighbors Maxwell and Mab Anderson a holograph score of “O Captain! My Captain!” Weill next set “Beat! Beat! Drums!” because of “its extraordinary timeliness” as a “passionate call to arms to everybody in the nation.” Late in January he wrote Lotte Lenya, “I’m finishing another Whitman song (“Dirge for Two Veterans”), which I think will be the best. I’ll try to get Paul Robeson to sing them first.” Shortly after returning from his only trip back to Europe, Weill added a fourth song, from Whitman’s “Wound Dresser” collection depicting the tragedy of the individual soldier, “Come Up from the Fields, Father.” All four Whitman songs were then recorded by tenor William Horne for Concert Hall Records, under Weill’s supervision.
When Weill died of a heart attack in April 1950 at age fifty, he left behind drafts of fi ve songs for a musical play “Huckleberry Finn” with lyrics by Maxwell Anderson. Orchestrated by Robert Russell Bennett, they were premiered in 1952 in New York and published for piano and voice in 1954, “creatively edited” by Weill’s rehearsal pianist, Lys Symonette.
- Kim H. Kowalke
Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951)
Arnold Schoenberg, a truculent, irremediably highbrow artistic personality, remained ever German in Los Angeles (to which he moved in 1934) notwithstanding his substantial effectiveness as a teacher (at UCLA) and influence (on American composers, if not American listeners). Though he expressed “disgust” with American popular culture and was alienated by Hollywood, his private students included Hollywood’s leading film composers. And he was as prone to gusts of patriotism as to fusillades of disparagement. He once described himself as “driven into paradise,” where “my head can be erect.” A rare common thread in the Weill and Schoenberg sagas is their patriotic musical response to Pearl Harbor and America’s declaration of war. In 1942, Weill composed three of his Walt Whitman Songs; Schoenberg composed his Ode to Napoleon the same year.
The Schoenberg works we hear tonight comprise snapshots of the composer before and after becoming an American. His Six Little Piano Pieces (Op. 19), published in 1913, exemplify Schoenberg’s atonal period–his departure from tonality. The Ode to Napoleon, closing out the evening, is an unusually accessible (and unusually lenient) implementation of the 12-tone, “serial” compositional methodology he devised in 1921 with the intention, so typically contentious, of “insuring the superiority of German music for the next hundred years.” Raging with anger against the Nazis, soaring with patriotic exaltation, this is music that feeds magnifi cently on Schoenberg’s intensity of temperament and moral engagement.
The Ode abounds in Germanic Expressionistic description; it seizes on dark hypnotic detail. The poem, by Byron, salutes the conquering democrat George Washington (here standing in for FDR) as antipode to Napoleon (here taking the place of Hitler). The scoring is for piano, string quartet, and a reciter whose words are set as “Sprechgesang” —Schoenberg’s unique way of combining speech and song, notating rhythms and relative pitches. The British, American, and Germanic resonances remain unblended and mutually incongruous. That even at his most “American” Schoenberg—so unlike Weill—is proudly and incorrigibly German makes this patriotic gesture the more touching.
- Joseph Horowitz
Overture Program Information
Artist Information (Show)
Baritone William Sharp has a reputation as a singer of artistry and versatility, garnering acclaim for his work in concert, recital, opera, and recording. He performs actively, as he has for four decades. He has appeared with most major American symphony orchestras including those of New York, Chicago, Washington, Boston, Baltimore, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. He has created world premiere performances and recordings of works by composers such as Leonard Bernstein, John Harbison, John Musto, Jon Deak, Libby Larson, David Del Tredici, Lori Laitman, Steven Paulus, Scott Wheeler, and David Liptak. His performances and recordings of baroque and earlier music are equally acclaimed.
Mr. Sharp’s discography of several dozen discs encompasses music spanning 900 years, from the 12th century to today. His 1990 world premiere recording of Leonard Bernstein's last major work, Arias and Barcarolles won a GRAMMY Award, and he was nominated for a 1989 GRAMMY for Best Classical Vocal Performance for his recording featuring the works of American composers such as Virgil Thomson, John Musto, and Lee Hoiby. He made his New York recital debut in 1983, Kennedy Center debut in 1984, and Carnegie Hall recital debut in 1989. He is winner of the Carnegie Hall International American Music Competition, the Young Concert Artists International Auditions, the Kathleen Ferrier Memorial Prize, and the Geneva International Competition.
Mr. Sharp has taught voice at the university level since 1977 and joined the Peabody Conservatory faculty in 2002. His students are performing throughout the world in concert and opera.
Ohio native Shane Schag received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the Ashland University of Ohio, and his Master’s Degree in Collaborative Piano from the Cleveland Institute of Music. In 2001, he received his Professional Studies Certificate from the Manhattan School of Music.
He has performed in recital both as soloist and ensemble performer throughout the United States and Europe, including a concerto performance with the Ashland Symphony Orchestra. He has won several awards and scholarships including the Gwendolyn Koldofsky Memorial Award, which was given to “a musician who demonstrated outstanding professionalism in collaborative piano.”
Mr. Schag has worked in the capacity of vocal coach for Centro Studi Italiani Opera Festival, and as an assistant conductor for the Gotham Chamber Opera. In 2007, Mr. Schag made his debut at Weill Recital Hall (Carnegie Hall), and now he serves as staff pianist for Carnegie Hall’s Musical Explorers concert series, which reaches out to public schools across the tri-state area, and the Lotte Lenya Competition in Rochester, New York. Mr. Schag is also Music Director for the American Musical Theater Ensemble at the Manhattan School of Music, and is on the faculty of Operaworks in Los Angeles.